Friday 20 April 2018

Saudi Arabia threatens to quit Olympics over headscarf ban

Jacquelin Magnay

SAUDI Arabia has threatened to withdraw from the London 2012 Olympic Games unless judo athlete Wujdan Shahrkhani is allowed to wear her headscarf in competition.

The International Olympic Committee has organised an urgent meeting with Saudi Arabia national Olympic committee officials, the international judo federation, and London Olympic organisers to try and avert the Saudi withdrawal.

"Yes we have heard that the Saudis are not happy and we will have an urgent meeting, certainly in the next two days," an IOC spokesperson said.

The issue is particularly sensitive as the IOC president Jacques Rogge had spent many months attempting to ensure Saudi Arabian women were participating in the London Games, despite initial reticence by the Saudi royal family.

Saudi Arabia had been the only country which appeared not to be sending any female athletes to the Games.

But just weeks ago, the IOC announced that two female athletes would represent Saudi Arabia at the Games: Shahrkhani in judo and Sarah Attar in track and field.

At the time the Saudis said the women could compete only if they were allowed to wear appropriate Muslim clothing.

However, those plans were thrown into chaos last night when International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said Shahrkhani could not fight with a headscarf.

He said that the decision was a result of safety concerns and also "according to the principles and spirit of judo".

Judo spokesman Nicolas Messner said the hijab could be dangerous because the sport involved strangleholds and chokeholds.

However, judo federations within Asia have allowed Muslim women to wear hijabs.

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